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Berlin: Images of a transformed city

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The question of how to appropriately commemorate a city’s past in the process of urban transformation is a task that is not exclusively reserved for urban planners. In the case of Berlin, it is a particularly complex challenge because of the city’s turbulent history in the twentieth century. This article explores three treatments of a modern urban landscape that incorporates a web of historical layers. Today, Berlin reveals its past in semi-hidden, yet visible, surfaces that Andreas Huyssen aptly considers elements of a palimpsest. The historical layers embody wounds of a scarred city. German filmmakers have reinvented Berlin as a cinematic city that is looking back and forward simultaneously, oftentimes impacting or even anticipating socio-aesthetic trajectories. For Wim Wenders, the city has always been more than a mere setting, or extension, for fictional characters. Wenders’ cityscapes serve as protagonists in their own right, allowing the audience to see the films as unique historical documents of a moment in the history of the city. Finally, Brigitta B. Wagner’s Berlin Replayed: Urban Nostalgia in the Postwall Era (2015) explores the interplay between the built urban environment and virtual versions of Berlin with a focus on feature films from the 1920s to present.
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Keywords: Berlin; Germany; Weimar cinema; architecture; cities; memory; nostalgia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bucknell University

Publication date: 01 September 2016

More about this publication?
  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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